USA-Canada II: 'a whole different game' U.S. wins bobsled; first in 62 years
By ALAN ROBINSON
VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Here we go again.
A week ago, on what was called Super Sunday, the Americans beat the Canadians in the Olympics for the first time in 50 years. On Sequel today, the U.S. will try to become Olympic champions on the 50th anniversary of their out-of-nowhere gold medal in Squaw Valley, Calif.; the only other American hockey gold was the Miracle on Ice in Lake Placid 30 years ago.
No, one game wasn't nearly enough.
Canada, the hockey superpower, was always supposed to play for the gold medal on home ice in the very country that invented hockey. The United States, the infrequent power that hasn't won a hockey gold outside its own borders, has been the best team in the Olympics so far.
Beating Canada on Canadian ice with a pro-Canadian crowd once was difficult enough for the U.S., the surprise of the tournament and the only unbeaten team remaining.
"It's hard to beat a team twice in a tournament like this," U.S. coach Ron Wilson said. "But we've beaten Canada, and we'll play better than we did the last time we played against them."
The Americans have no choice unless they're to leave the Olympics with the silver for the second time in three Olympics. Canada also defeated them in Salt Lake City eight years ago.
"We all talked, 'Wouldn't it be nice?' and now we have the opportunity," said Ryan Miller, perhaps the best goalie in the games. "We have the talent. We have some youthful excitement, we have the right kind of veteran players."
Those U.S. youngsters — 14 are 25 or younger — have won every game in regulation in Vancouver. They didn't give 2006 silver medalist Finland a chance in the semifinals, scoring six goals in the opening 13 minutes and winning 6-1.
The Canadians have been very good since losing to the U.S., blowing out Germany 8-2 and Russia 7-3, but they've also shown vulnerability. The Americans' speed bothered them, and they held on to beat Slovakia 3-2 in the semifinals Friday night as Roberto Luongo gave up two late goals.
"We've got to jump on them early," American forward Ryan Kesler said yesterday. "The Russians and Slovaks sat back and we're not going to do that, we're going to go right after them from the puck drop. We're going to have to get in his (Luongo's) face."
No lineup can match Canada's for depth, talent and versatility. But this isn't a seven-game series, it's a 60-minute game, and the Americans already know they can beat Canada.
If they have few fans in the building, so what? Every crowd in Vancouver has rooted for the Americans' opponent.
"We believe we can win," Wilson said. "I'm not guaranteeing we're winning the game, but we certainly believe we can. And why shouldn't we believe we can win the game?"
It's been a difficult month for the man charged with picking that team, general manager Brian Burke, who insisted from the start the U.S. could win.
Burke lost his son in a car accident this month, but he said the late Brendan Burke would have wanted him to carry out his commitment to the Olympic team. So far, the players' performance has justified Burke's immense faith in them. He made sure they kept their competitive edge after the Canada game by saying they hadn't come close to playing up to their potential.
"Our goaltender stole that game for us," Burke said. "I think we had about 10 guys pulling on the rope, and that's why I kind of blasted them."
Canada's confidence apparently wasn't shaken by last Sunday's loss. Coach Mike Babcock was half-smiling after the Slovakia game when he said the U.S. should be favored, and defenseman Shea Weber said, "They did beat us, but now it's a whole different game."
Miller might represent the United States' biggest advantage; he has outplayed Luongo, who took over for Martin Brodeur following the U.S. loss. But there are plenty of worries for the Americans, too, given how Canada is getting scoring from all four lines.
"We were too easy on Miller last time," Babcock said, despite Canada's 45-23 edge in shots in the first game. "We won't be this time."
Neither will the crowd, which has kept the pump-up-the-Canadians volume at rock concert levels game after game.
"The Canadians view this as their game and they view this game as planting a flag on a peak," Burke said.
The player expected to be Canada's best, Sidney Crosby, hasn't scored in two games, and his most significant contribution was beating Switzerland in a shootout. But when he last faced Miller in the NHL, on Feb. 1, he scored three goals.
"I feel like I've generated a lot of chances," Crosby said. "The puck hasn't gone in as easy for our line the last couple of games, but we've been right there and that's a good sign. Hopefully, this is the time we're going to break out here."